Friday, September 30, 2005

Sabbatical from Marriage

I have never shared, with anyone the fact that the day I married I jumped from the frying pan directly into the fire, and that is where I stayed for 27 years. Until, the day I decided to take a “vacation from marriage,” a sabbatical of sorts, during which I hoped to reclaim that raw-material person I had left behind in my youth before I started to play the roles our culture demands of women. It was a bold gesture, one never taken by generations of the women in my family, some women friends called me brave, others disapproved heartily, and each member of my family thought I was crazy.

Everyday of my life, up to that point, I had always been for each person in my life what they expected I should be. But for once, I didn’t take into account what others thought. I was working on pure gut reaction. Suddenly, words had a way of slipping out of my mouth unbidden before my mind new they had been formed, and so, when I announced my intentions to my husband, I shocked us both. It was not until I was standing among the packing boxes in the middle of my first solo apartment, 40 miles from my home and job, that I began to realize the ramifications of my impulsive decision. I had altered my life and I was left holding freedom in one hand and guilt in the other.

As resident nurturer of not just my household but, that of both our families, I had spent the last 27 years sustaining others while neglecting myself in the process. Now, it was my turn to retreat, repair, and, I hoped, regenerate myself. Was I being selfish or smart? Perhaps an inner voice was leading me, I thought. Perhaps living apart from family would allow me to reconnect to the internal strengths that I thought once were mine. I felt that in time if I were patient enough to wait for the thaw then all would be mine once again.

In reflecting back on that first year, I realize how much it was about saying yes to such things as spontaneity, risk taking and, of course being open to that big wonderful new world. I began to revel in the raw experience that heightened the intensity of my days----not unlike a child who is guided by her wonder and curiosity. Oh! What a wonderful new taste was added to each day by not having to run each thought or action through someone else’s reaction filter first. What developed over time was a kind of knowing that didn’t so much involve my head but rather my senses. I came to understand that I am as unfinished as any of Gods creatures. What’s more my husband, and family were equally unfinished. That was the great message………to transcend ourselves again and again and to know that those with whom we come in contact are in process as well.

Once reinstating a relationship with myself, it was time for the greater challenge--- that of reconnecting with my husband. The reassembling of my marriage would have never happened without my year of solitude. Taking time away from each other was, in retrospect, both necessary and appropriate.

When I left I provided my husband with a listing of all my concerns and the areas where I felt we each needed to focus our efforts for change, making it clear that I would not be back until he could show that he was in agreement and trying to address each of the items on his half of the list. Initially, he declared that our relationship had no problems other then the ones I fabricated and he had nothing to correct or make amends for. He swore that I would be incapable of supporting myself and announced to the world that I would fall flat on my face and come running home begging for his forgiveness, and seeking his protection, within six months. So for the first six months he sat and waited for my return and we did not speak at all. Then he took a “hell with her” attitude and went in search of other ladies to prove I was not needed, making certain that our daughter (and friends) kept me informed. Each time she called all I would say was “Where is he on his list. That is the only updates I’m interested in hearing, otherwise your father is not a topic open to discussion.”

About the one year mark, and after the initial shock, anger, and finally discord that came with the realization that I really was serious and could survive without him, my husband started to take a penetrating look at those experiences most would choose to bury-----weeding out self-indulgence and wishful thinking—in order to determine his destiny with or without me. He started to question what roll, if any, did he play in this turn of events, how much of my decision had to do with his lassitude? Where my demands reasonable? Was it his preference to be alone or together?

There was no question that we both needed the space to understand the roots of our relationship and the values around what we had created together. We had become estranged because of reasons no more complicated then laziness, indifference, ignorance, and selfishness. Mixed with that arrogant “good old boy” attitude that “I am king of my castle and you are but the lowly serving winch that is supposed to be subservient to me and kowtow and provide my every whim” that had been fed by way too much alcohol consumption for a dozen or more years.

Once he made the decision to recommit, I let it be know that he had to freely join me in wanting to fight for an openness in which the faults of the other could be admitted and discussed so we could unlearn and relearned what was keeping us away from the immediacy of our lives and our connection with each other.

The second year was spent in dating (courting if you what to call it that) minus the fire of old passion and mired with problems and illusions.  In “The Art of Loving, Erich Fromm says, “Nothing, especially love, can be mastered without practice—and practice involves discipline, concentration, patience, and supreme concern.” Through trial and error, yielding and resisting, retracing and reinventing, dependence and interdependence, we began the task of reassembling out lives together. The year was spent crawling toward the inexpressible. There was no model to follow. We were two unique souls who merged 29 years before, and out of that union appeared an original couple, impossible to replicate.

At the end of the second year he moved into my small apartment. I refused to give up my own space until I was assured that we would be able to continue the process of moving forward and besides our daughter, her fiancée and our grandchild were living in our house. My husband’s allowing them to come and continue to stay (now going on 6 years) was just one of the many kinks in our relationship to be ironed out. Suddenly, we did not know how to be together.

After more then a quarter of a century of sharing a life we did not know how to cohabitate. We were so polite. Foreign words like “May I’, “Do you mind” “Please and thank you” filled every sentence. Out of our vulnerabilities a new way of being together began to be discovered. The unfinished elements of our relationship would continue to rise and fall, like incoming tides, constantly and irresistibly moving within us.

Then suddenly, four months into our rediscovery period, and seven years after first being diagnosed with COPD a massive lung hemorrhage put him in the ICU on life support and it appeared that our new life would end before it had really begun. As the time neared for him to be ready to be released it was apparent that he would never be able to manage the stairs to our second floor apartment. I also had to question if, (or for how long) he would ever return to work. Did it make sense to relocate to a new apartment when we were making mortgage payments on a more then adequate house? In the end my practical side won out and we moved back to the house I had left 2 ½ years earlier.

But, the balance of our new and blossoming relationship was forever recast. He was now more dependent, but less willing to be, then at any other time in our marriage. Suddenly, all the new rules could not be obeyed or enforced and it was too late to return to the old ones. We were once again floating in the limbo land of the lost, and having to find ways to rewrite the rules while trying not to sacrifice our new found harmony.

Our life became one long battle to find ways to prove the doctors wrong and cheat the grim reaper, without loosing our sanity or sacrificing our newfound oneness. Death, the threat and the reality, in all of its ugly forms, sights, sounds and smells began to dominate our lives. We enter the cycle of good days, bad days, and worst days. Hardly a week went by without having to juggle employment with doctor’s appointments and hospitals stays. The struggles to maintain the needs of a household and provide 32 different medications plus in home and portable oxygen on my salary alone also became the norm. One financial crisis would be averted only to find that six more had taken its place. The six months we were told to expect and tried to cherish grew into a year, then two and finally ended 8 long years later after once again being placed on and weaned from a life-support machine only to return to the small apartment that we now shared to loose the fight 32 hours later.

As I watched the remains of my husband of 37 years being removed from our home I new that our marriage was still unfinished and that it would always remain that way. I had to question how I would go about closing the book on a marriage that was never able to write the final chapter. I couldn’t help but contemplate all the ways the man that had just left me, was different from the man I had married so long ago. I questioned whether my life, like our marriage would now also remain unfinished. Would the yet to be written chapters of my new life as a widow find the answers to questions that still eluded me. Would this new and forced “sabbatical from marriage” become permanent, or would it be a temporary period of retooling and refitting to emerge as a new and more deluxe model ready to be accepted by the husband of the future.

Now two years later, I have to wonder is this as good as it gets. I question, will I ever have the opportunity to put into practice all the lessons learned during my 37 year training period? Does experience and trial by fire count for anything worth while? Will anyone see it (and me) for the treasure it is? Will there be someone that will want to tackle the job of helping me to finish the fine turning on this life I have been trying to rebuild?

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

The 20 Rules of a Great Marriage

I am a reader and spend much time inching my way thought the shelves of my local bookstore and library. The endless supply of self help books never ceases to amaze me. Especially, the ones on love, marriage and building healthy relationships. Where were these books when I was a new bride struggling to find my way, at a time when such things were not talked about openly and a girl had to look to the older women of the family for advice. Many of whom could only say things like "such is the lot of women" or " it will improve with time".

Well, several days ago I found a small little book entitled "20 Surprisingly simple rules and tools for a Great Marriage." and just had to check it out. I was curious to learn what I did wrong and might have done differently over the 37 years of my marriage, that might have changed the course of our relationship. Well, the book is great and I wish it had been tucked into one of my shower boxes as a new bride (and that is what I will do with this copy) it would have saved me a lot of hard work and heartache. But, there was nothing new in the book that I had not learned over time learn from the school of hard knocks and trial and error. But, many of the wisdom's of this little book can also be applied in revised fashion to our everyday relationships with the people we are meeting, dating, or hoping to make a long term commitment too.

The 20 rules for a great Marriage.

1. Make your spouse (date, friend, partner) a priority
Bottom line is if you partner does not feel thy are special to you, sooner or later they will be tempted to find someone who does make them feel special.

2. Accept differences
If two people were completely alike, their relationship would be boring and out of balance. Be thankful for those differences and make an effort to understand and appreciate them.

3. Listen carefully.
We all hear but we so seldom take the time to listen. Listening means to take the time to look at the person and truly listen to each word. Really listening is a intimate activity. The more you listen, the more your partner will open their heart to you. Over time listening builds closeness that makes you emotionally one. Healthy relationships thieve and being emotionally one.

4. Compliment daily
compliments show appreciation, when you feel appreciated, you tend to feel loved. Without appreciation you get discouraged. So complimenting possessions, appearance, behavior and character will encourage your partner, make them smile and draw them closer to you.

5. work together as a team
Couples need to embrace the concept of being intimate allies. Allies communicate and defend each other. They coordinate their efforts and help each other out. Marriage is like a 3 legged race: try to push ahead without your partners cooperation, and you will both fall. Work together and you will win.

6. Mind your manners
Good manners are of way of showing your love. When you truly love someone you want to act in a certain way. Being polite is simply an effort to be kind, show respect and treat your partner as you would want to be treated. Were there is true love there are manners. Where there are good manners, there is the potential for a great relationship.

7. Watch less TV
Television isn't bad but it can do bad things to a relationship. It can pull you apart and steal precious moments, filling them with irrelevant and sometimes highly questionable material. Television is consuming and if not controlled it will control you, it draws you in, demands attention and resents competition. More relationships are ignored and die because of television then any other single factor.

8. Find time for fun
The coupe that plays together, stay together. Playfulness helps you relax, and when you relax, you'll find that you're able to relate to one another in a more positive manner. Having fun relieves stress and builds great memories.

9. Do the little things
One of the mistakes we often make is thinking "the bigger the better". Big plans can be nice, but more often, it's the little things that count the most. It is the little movements toward our partners that increase our contentment with each other. The more little things you do the more little things come back to you. As little things add up so does love and appreciation grow and grow.

10. Celebrate the "Top Five"
Which are Christmas, Valentines Day, wedding anniversary, spouse's birthday, Mother/Fathers day. Never miss giving a gift on the top five. Chances to be generous and giving are extra special ways of say you care in unique ways and letting your partner know that they are special to you are you are thankful for having them in your life. But, don't be limited by only five days each year when you have 360 chances to show your love.

11. Think positive
Negative words or actions can leave deep scars. Research shows that it takes eight positives to make up for a single negative. People who face to many negative responses simply give up trying. Nothing will kill a relationship faster then negative behavior. A few examples are being critical, bitter, ignoring, defensive, argumentative, grumpy, sarcastic, short-tempered, passive-aggressive, unresponsive, impatient, cynical, complaining, unhappy, resistant, sharp, nagging, or frustrated. Work on expressing more positive behaviors. "You can either complain that rose bushes have thorns------------or you can rejoice that the thorn bushes have roses."

12. Fight fair
Every couple fights. Every couple have different styles of fighting, Some fight frequently; others only disagree once in a while. Some battle with silence; others get very loud. Some explode and it's over; others pick and complain for years. Whatever your style it's important that you learn how to fight fair. if you don't you will leave a trail of hurt, anger, disrespect, fear, disappointment, and unresolved conflict behind you. When you fight fair you will learn to understand each other better and grow closer rather then more distant.

13. Forgive
Since none of us are perfect we're bound to find ourselves in plenty of situations that require forgiveness. Take responsibility for your actions and seek forgiveness with each offense. By doing so you open the door to healing and togetherness. Refusing to seek forgiveness slams the door on your partners feelings and blocks your relationship from growing, Flip side is granting forgiveness. refusing to forgive traps pain and keeps us from healing. Without forgiveness, trust can't be regained and the relationship begins to die.

14. Welcome each other home
What happens in the first fifteen minutes of arriving home often sets the mood for the rest of the evening. If you arrive home to someone that is glad to see you, you are happy to be there. If you are ignored or met with a list of everything that went wrong while you were gone, you begin to wish you were somewhere else. Welcoming each other home is something that can transform your relationship, if every person welcomed their spouse home with loving enthusiasm you would be surprised at the positive impact it would have on the relationship.

15. Go to bed at the same time
To many couples live parallel lives, They spend much of their time doing different jobs, enjoying different hobbies and talking with different friends. If a couple is not careful, this creates a distant marriage. When you go to bed at the same time, you create a perfect opportunity to reconnect and rebuild your togetherness. To end the day together is a reminder that the two of you are one. Set aside some quality time just before you go to sleep. Make this a special time, shutting out all the busyness, stress, and distractions of the world. The last thing on your mind as you go to sleep is processed by your brain all night long, Going to bed with a positive attitude toward each other assures that you will awake still feeling great about your mate.

16 Develop mutual friends
Every couple needs good mutual friends. In this age of being a very mobile, independent, busy and disconnected from family and community mutual friends are more important then ever before in helping a relationship to succeed. Friends help you through the rough times and enrich the positive times in your relationship. Friends can make a good marriage better, supporting and protecting all that is important.

17. never stop dating
Couple don't usually decide to stop dating8ing; it just happens. Responsibilities and the hectic pace of living get in the way. Make time to schedule dates and romance into your schedules. Dating brought you together and it will keep you together. Dating pulls you above the ordinary, allowing you special time to communicate and connect. Enjoying some type of date on a weekly basis will improve your relationship and help you to appreciate each other even more.

18. make love
Men and women are wired differently; this is especially true in the sexual area. Because of these differences sexual communication is very important. Sexually involves "the 3 G's" 1. sex is Good. God created sex, and when it is expressed unselfishly within the boundaries of marriage, it is a mutual blessing. 2. Sex is Glue. "For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh." Sexuality protects a couple from outside temptations and bonds them closer together than any other relationship can. 3. Sex is a gift. "The wife's body does not belong to her alone but also to her husband. IN the same way, the husbands body does not belong to him alone but also to the wife" (1 Corinthians) Freely giving yourself to your spouse with no expectations in return is true romance.

19. Pray for and with your spouse
Ultimately, prayer is your best protection. Going through marriage without prayer is like walking a high wire without a safety net. Don't be foolish. Always remember that prayer succeeds when all else fails. Make time to pray together. And pray for each other, your marriage, your health, safety; temptations; work, fears, dreams, and mostly your shared faith.

20 Treasure your spouse.
Often it takes a crisis to realize what is of true value in our lives. Your partner is a unique and special person with strengths and talents and potential. 'Too often, we take them for granted. Too often we don't treasure a person until after they are gone. Then we finally realize how much they meant to us and how empty life will be without them.

Take it from this widow, now is the time to treasure those loved ones in your life. And if the Lord blesses me with a second chance at marriage, I hope I will do a better job, from the start of putting these 20 rules into practice. Some of them it took me decades to learn the last time and some of them I never did. Hopefully, next time I will be smarter from day one.

Friday, September 23, 2005

If you forget.

The subject of the worst gift you ever received from a husband or boyfriend came up today on a message board I frequent and I was reminded of this story and decided to share it here.

My first husband and I were married on Aug 5th and my birthday was on July 7th. So, my first birthday after the wedding was also my 21st. Naturally, I expected either a house party or a bar hopping party to celebrate the big 21. The day came and went without a word from him. My girlfriend kept calling ever half hour to see what he gave me and at 10pm when the answer was still "not a word" she came and took me out for the prerequisite drink. I was to hurt to say anything, and just sulked for a week.

The next month our first anniversary came and went the same way. Not a word. No card, gift anything. So I was fuming. I called my Aunt for advice and she said that you have to "never allow a precedence to get started because then you have no grounds on which to object. If you allow something to be repeated without taking issue then you have no grounds on which to complain about being unhappy the next time it is repeated". She said to nip it in the bud and let him know what was expected. When I discussed it with my sister-in-law. I learned that Christmas was the only day celebrated in their parent's house and therefore birthdays, anniversaries and other holidays were just not considered important to my husband and he had no way of knowing or understanding that I grew up in a family where everything was celebrated to the hilt.

So what to do??? Well, I had always wanted matching wedding bands and he had gotten me a very gaudy set of wedding rings I hated. So I went to the jewelers and ordered a ring to match his and that night I set him down and gave him the bill and explained that the ring was going to be my combined birthday/ anniversary gift and that I expected him to remember both dates in the future and I would settle for a romantic card, but, if he forgot then I was going to buy the most expensive thing I could find and send him the bill.

The next year my birthday was again ignored so I went out an bought a sofa and sent dear husband the bill. A month later the anniversary was also ignored so I purchased matching chairs and end tables for the living room and sent the bill. When he hit the roof I quietly stated "If you remember my birthday card, it costs 25 cents (price in 1968) if you forget my card, then it is the most expensive thing I can find to buy.

Well it took him 5 years and many expensive items to realize I was dead serious. When I woke up on the morning of my birthday the sixth year there was a card hanging from the ceiling by a string and only inches from my face. For the next 32 years until the day he died I never got a birthday or anniversary gift but there was always a mushy, romantic, and often expensive card within arms reach when I awoke. Once when I was pregnant and had to sleep on my back I found the card actually standing on my stomach when I woke up. He defiantly took me at my word.

Sunday, September 18, 2005

Turning out Grandpa's Pockets

I have been attempting to write a children's book for my grandson, based on my memories of my Grandfather and turning out his pockets. This prompted my curiosity on the subject and so I have been making a fool of myself by asking all the guys I know/meet if they will empty their pockets for me.

What I have discovered is that today's men seem to be more streamlined in what they carry to avoid the nerdy stigma of pocket bulges. . Based on the responses received I have to assume that sentimental items like pet rocks, lucky coins, buckeye nuts have all become passe or at least found new homes to make room for modern electronics. Lots of cell phones. And the high schoolers are carrying MP3 players and tiny remote controlled cars. Lots of memory cards, palm pilots, these days too.

I have been surprised by the number of religious items encounter. Most have medals or small crosses, but lots of rosaries too. And I was surprised at how many men no longer carry a handkerchief. Also surprised, by the number of pill boxes men are carrying these days. Not a good sign, but it could mean that men are getting more proactive about their health. I have not found as many cigarettes and bic's as I expected which is a also a good thing. I found too many condoms in young pockets, which caused mixed feelings.

But, over all if men's pockets reflect the times, then I think it speaks very badly for the state of the world. I think it is very sad that it is no longer safe for old men to carry lemon drops and pennies to share with children, and so many men seem less willing to show feelings, or expressions of family, by carrying sentimental tokens of love.

Friday, September 16, 2005

What is it with Guys?

What is it about Guys and the assortment of small items that always collect in your pockets? Why do you carry them and how do you keep from loosing them? Besides money and keys, what unusual items do you routinely carry and why would you not leave home without them?

Why do I ask?

Because, when I was a little girl I always loved to visit with my Grandfather, because he would always let me turn his pockets inside out. Grandpa always wore bib-overalls with more pockets then a small child could count and he always carried the most amazing things, and each time was a new adventure. This post would be far too long if I tried to list all the unusual things that turned up in Grandpa’s pockets or the stories he had to tell about them. But, I could always count on finding each of the following every time I turned out grandpa’s pockets: plenty of lemon drops and pennies to share, a toy cricket (a tin bug that made a cricket sound when you pushed on the snapper in the back), a kazoo, a buckeye nut, a well-worn 1878 Morgan liberty head silver dollar (year he was born), a rosary (tied up in the toe of a old sock) that had been his Mother’s and was broken and missing 2 beads but he would sit in the barn everyday at noon and pray those beads, a big flat washer tied to a long piece of string, a fish hook stuck in a cork, a small medal tin of stick matches, a flat wood pencil and a folding ruler.

My father never wore bibs and there was no way he would let me turn his pockets inside out, but, growing up I learned that he had special items that went on the night stand each night and back into his pockets each morning. Dad carried a buckeye nut, a buck pocket knife, a 1922 half dollar, a small flat stone he picked up in the Philippines during WW2, a St. Christopher medal, and a small square nail.

Over the years I discovered that my husband’s pockets were also never without a few prized items. He always carried a small buck knife, a buckeye nut, a set of handcuff keys, a painted rock (daughters first craft) a Zippo lighter (my first gift) and a 1899 Liberty head half dollar (his Dad’s)

What about the men in your life, what do you find interesting in their pockets?

Okay, I confess, I'm guilty.

Okay, I confess, I’m guilty of being a people watcher.

Everyday, I eat in a small diner near my home. I’m always excited when I can get the corner booth because it allows me to observe everyone without being so obvious. So today, we have: …………

In booth one: There is a couple in their late fifties. She followed 10 steps behind him and did not sit until after he was settled. The entire time they were there they never spoke except to order, then he ordered first and she simply said “I’ll have the same”. During the entire time he kept his head bowed and looked at the table or the floor and she kept scanning the ceiling and any place above his head. They never once made eye contact. He ate less then half of his dinner then tossed the napkin into the plate followed by the flatware. A second later she did the same and pushed her half eaten plate off to the side. She put the strap of her handbag on her shoulder and waited, the moment he picked up the check she stood and went and waited by the door.

In booth two: There is an elderly couple (possibly mid seventies) and they sit on the same side of the booth. He has had a stroke and his right arm in paralyzed and crooked so he sits on the outside of the booth. They chatter constantly and he keeps patting her arm or holding her hand. When the food comes she reaches over and cuts his meat and each time he raised his fork to eat his elbow jabs her in the side but, she seems not to notice. When they go to leave he extends his good arm to help steady her and they walk out arm in arm.

In booth three: There is a couple, she is about 30 and is 4’10” high and weighs about 350 lbs. She orders the dinner plate special consisting of an entrée with baked potato, vegetable, and texas toast. Then she also orders a second vegetable, a side of coleslaw, a side of cottage cheese, a side of pineapple chucks. He is mid fifties and 6’ 3” and weights about 150 lbs. He also orders the dinner special. When the food arrives he places his texas toast on her plate, cuts his potato in half and places half of it on her plate along with his sour cream. He is finished eating in less then 5 min. and he sits and watches her eat for the next half hour. They have light conversation until the food arrives then neither speaks until she has finished eating. She eats one item at a time and as she empties each dish he takes it an adds it to the stake in front of him. Once she is finished eating he signals the server to come take the dishes and orders 2 glasses of ice tea and they then sit and have an animated conversation for quite some time.

So what conclusions do you draw about each couple from the above descriptions?

All appearances would say the couple in booth one were having a spat. Not so. I have watched them many times and it is always the same. Last week, last month, last year, it is always the same. What does this say about their relationship? They have only been married about 10 years.

All appearances would say the couple in booth two had been happily married for 50 plus years and were the ideal that each of us strive to emulate. Again, not so. They are actually a brother and a sister and neither of them have ever been married. She lived with their parents until the father died last year, then he moved back into the family home to keep her from being there all alone.

Now the couple in booth three happen to be newlyweds. They were married less then six months ago. He is a hog farmer and she is the manager of the local DMV. They met at a church dinner and he was attracted to her because he likes a gal with a health appetite.